Berlin: The "evil spirits" of racism and anti-Semitism are re-emerging, said the presidents of Germany and Israel, as they marked 75 years since the liberation of the Auschwitz death camp, in Berlin on Wednesday.
Speaking at a special parliamentary session in Bundestag, Frank-Walter Steinmeier said that Germans had a responsibility to never forget their Nazi past and to stop hatred from spreading. "The evil spirits of the past are presenting their ethno-nationalist, authoritarian thinking as a vision, as a better answer to the questions of our time," he said.
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin echoed those concerns in his own speech, warning that the continent was being "visited by ghosts from the past". Rivlin told German lawmakers that ugly and extreme anti-Semitism was hovering over the whole of Europe.
Both men were speaking after attending recently held high-profile anniversary events in Jerusalem and at Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. The solemn occasions were dominated by fresh fears over the safety of Jews in Europe, more than seven decades after the Nazis murdered over six million Jews during the World War II.
Sitting in the audience in Berlin were MPs from the far-right AfD (Alternative for Germany) Party, whose leaders have openly railed against Germany's remembrance culture and its ongoing atonement for the atrocities committed under Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. Leading AfD lawmaker Alexander Gauland in 2018 had described the Nazi era as "a speck of bird shit" in German history.
'VERY NEGATIVE INFLUENCE'
Rivlin was the second Israeli president to speak at the German parliament's annual remembrance event, after Shimon Peres in 2010. The president issued an emotional plea to bring the remaining perpetrators of Nazi crimes to justice.
However, faced with a dwindling number of people who lived through World War II, attention is now shifting to ascertaining that the horrors of the Holocaust are not forgotten. On the eve of their Bundestag speeches, Rivlin and Steinmeier visited a centuries-old Jewish secondary school in the German capital.
"We have the fourth, fifth and sixth generation after the Holocaust and World War II," Rivlin told students. "Now we have to find a way to let you, and to let your children know what happened, and prevent it from happening again," he said.
Steinmeier urged young people to complement their history lessons with real-life "experiences" by travelling to Israel and visiting concentration camps like Auschwitz, where 1.1 million people were killed.
The German president said that his speech at Israel's memorial event last Thursday, in which he urged Germans to confront their past, attracted an "unbelievable" amount of negative reactions on Facebook.
'MASS EXIT' OF JEWS?
Alarm about anti-Jewish hatred has catapulted to the top of Germany's political agenda after a suspected neo-Nazi gunman tried to storm a synagogue filled with worshippers in the city of Halle in October.
After failing to break down the door, he shot dead a female passerby and a man at a kebab shop instead.
According to government figures, Germany recorded 1,799 anti-Semitic offences in 2018, an upward figure of nearly 20 percent from the year before. Of those, 69 were classified as violent attacks.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this week that nearly one in two Jews has considered leaving the country. In response to the turn of events, Chancellor Angela Merkel's government has already taken steps to tighten legislation on anti-Semitic crimes and punish online hate speech.
Germans "bear the responsibility of making everyone feel safe at home in Germany and in Europe," Merkel said recently.